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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2643

President Mahinda Rajapakse assures Sir Arthur Clarke to make 'lasting peace in the country a reality'

Colombo, 17 December, (Asiantribune.com): Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse assured that he will make it a reality that “a lasting pace in Sri Lanka.”

“I assure you Sir Arthur that my administration will do all within its power to seek to make a reality of one of your three wishes “a lasting pace in Sri Lanka” said President Mahinda Rajapakse at a felicitation ceremony to honor Sir Arthur C Clarke yesterday in Colombo.

The distinguished scientist celebrated his 90th birthday yesterday (December 16, 2007). Renowned scientists Dr. Alex Linov, Dr. Sarath Gunapala, Dr. Micheal Zolnesky, Prof. U.A. Rao and Dr. Sajid Mizra were also present at the occasion.

President speaking at the felicitation ceremony said “In his remarks today too, Sir Arthur displayed the same love for this country, as he listed among his three wishes, his desire “to see lasting peace in Sri Lanka as soon as possible”. As he has reminded us, Sir Arthur has been fortunate to see many of his dreams come true. I can give no guarantees on your first two wishes, but I assure you Sir Arthur that my administration will do all within its power to seek to make a reality of your third wish “a lasting peace in Sri Lanka”.

“ We in Sri Lanka, his adopted land, know him as the most famous non-national to call Sri Lanka his home. He has lived among us for over half a century since 1956, and has made enormous intellectual, cultural and scientific contributions to Sri Lanka’s development through much of its post-independent period,” President Rajapakse said.

“Sir Arthur’s passion for his adopted home has been displayed in abundance by various facets of activity in which he has made a lasting impact. To my mind, there is none more telling, than his response in the aftermath of the tsunami which hit Sri Lanka on 26 December 2004, as people the world over expressed concern for his safety and whether he would continue to live here, he assured them that he would and focused international attention on the need for a tsunami warning system,” President Rajapakse added.

Full text of the President Mahinda Rajapakse’s speech

The world knows Arthur C Clarke as an author, promoter of space exploration and for his contribution to popularizing science. I recall watching ‘2001 Space Odyssey’ with awe in the early 1960s. At the time this was all fantasy. But 40 years later, much of it has become part of our daily experience.

We in Sri Lanka, his adopted land, know him as the most famous non-national to call Sri Lanka his home. He has lived among us for over half a century since 1956, and has made enormous intellectual, cultural and scientific contributions to Sri Lanka’s development through much of its post-independent period.

I understand, it was Sir Arthur’s interest in underwater exploration that first brought him to Sri Lanka in 1955, and after his first expedition to the island, he decided to settle down here in 1956. He formed the diving company Underwater Safari in 1959, which pioneered professional diving and underwater tourism in Sri Lanka.

From that beginning, over the past half a century, Sir Arthur has contributed towards the development of education and higher education in Sri Lanka in numerous ways. He served as Chancellor of the University of Moratuwa from 1979 to 2002, when ill health forced him to resign. He was also on the Board of the Institute of Fundamental Studies (IFS) in its formative years, working with the late Professor Cyril Ponnamperuma. He also supported the setting up of the government institute for promoting new technologies in Sri Lanka, which is now named after him as the Arthur C Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies. In 1959 the Ceylon Astronomical Association was inaugurated by Sir Arthur and his colleague late Herschel Gunawardene.

For half a century, Sir Arthur has also written and broadcast extensively promoting Sri Lanka as a tourist destination. He has spent a good deal of time telling the world why he lives in Sri Lanka through good times and bad. “The short answer, of course, is that I had had enough of 30 years of British winters!” he says. As for the long answer, he has written several books giving parts of it, much to the delight of Sri Lanka’s tourism promoters. As he once summed it up: I quote: “Although Sri Lanka’s scenic beauty, natural environment and the climate all made it attractive, these were not the only reasons why I settled down here. There are islands in the Pacific perhaps more lovely and more temperate than this, but they have little culture and no sense of the past-nothing to engage the intellect”. And he went on to say: “Its twenty-five hundred years of written history, and the abundant ruins and archeological artifacts, are testimony to the great technological and philosophical civilization that once thrived on the island”.

Sir Arthur has written several works of fiction that are based partly or wholly in Sri Lanka, thus immortalizing the country in the world of literature. We know where he derived his inspiration-Sri Lanka. Perhaps the best known is his 1978 science fiction novel, The Fountains of Paradise, in which he popularized the revolutionary concept of the Space Elevator, now being developed as an alternative way to travel to Earth orbit. The story unfolds on the equatorial island of Taprobane- thinly disguised Sri Lanka-several decades in the future. But the main locations are unmistakable: the Sacred Mountain in Adam’s Peak and ‘Yakkagala’ is, in fact, Sigiriya.

Sir Arthur has been fascinated by Sigiriya ever since he first visited it in 1955, when he called it “Fortress in the Sky”. In later years, Sir Arthur spent many weeks studying the ruins and historical records of Sigiriya-which he calls the eighth wonder of the world. He has worked with archeologists like the late Dr. Senarath Paranavithana, the late Charles Godakumbura and Professor Senaka Bandaranayake in showcasing Sigiriya as one of the most advanced technological accomplishments of the ancient world.

Sir Arthur has not only helped promote our cultural heritage, he has also continued to advise us on how to conserve our natural heritage. Early on, Sir Arthur foresaw the hazards of unregulated coastal activities including tourism, and worked closely with Sri Lankan government officials to formulate laws and regulations for coastal zone management. Parallel to this, he waged a long-standing personal crusade to save the coral reefs around Sri Lanka, which are under threat from coral mining and unsustainable fishery practices such as dynamiting. Sir Arthur has used his outstanding communications skills and considerable influence in support of a variety of conservation causes in his adopted land. In the 1980s, he persuaded the government to designate Hikkaduwa as the country’s first marine sanctuary. He continues to speak out whenever necessary on matters as diverse as halting dolphin killings, saving elephants, energy conservation and preventing marine pollution. He is a voice of reason and moderation that is respected and heeded.

Sir Arthur has also lent his talents to the Sri Lankan film industry. The highlight was in 1962 when Sir Arthur financed, through Serendip Productions Company, the first ever colour feature film to be made in Sri Lanka, Ran Muthu Duwa. It was directed by Sri Arthur’s diving partner and long-time friend Mike Wilson, and involved talented Sri Lankans like Shesha Palihakkara, Titus Totawatte and Tissa Liyanasuriya in the production team, and the late Gamini Fonseka and Joe Abeywickrema in the cast. It is still considered a landmark in our cinema history. Sir Arthur later also ‘starred’ in a Sinhala film. In 1978, he played the role of Leonard Wolf in Baddegama, which was Dr. Lester James Peiris’s movie adaptation of The Village in the Jungle. Lester persuaded Sir Arthur to say a few words in Sinhala after sentencing Silindu at the Hambantota Magistrate’s court where colonial officer Leonard Wolf once presided.

Sir Arthur’s passion for his adopted home has been displayed in abundance by these various facets of activity in which he has made a lasting impact. To my mind, there is none more telling, than his response in the aftermath of the tsunami which hit Sri Lanka on 26 December 2004, as people the world over expressed concern for his safety and whether he would continue to live here, he assured them that he would and focused international attention on the need for a tsunami warning system.

In a “Letter from Sri Lanka” which appeared in the magazine Wired on the tsunami recovery and the roles of science fiction and technology in predicting future disasters, Sri Arthur was to observe…I quote: “Cameras and other communications media have to do more that just document the devastation and mobilize emergency relief. We need to move beyond body counts and aid appeals to find lasting, meaningful ways of supporting Asia’s recovery. In that sense, the Asian tsunami becomes a test for information and communications technologies (ICTs) in terms of how they can support humanitarian assistance and human development.”

In his remarks today too, Sir Arthur displayed the same love for this country, as he listed among his three wishes, his desire “to see lasting peace in Sri Lanka as soon as possible”. As he has reminded us, Sir Arthur has been fortunate to see many of his dreams come true. I can give no guarantees on your first two wishes, but I assure you Sir Arthur that my administration will do all within its power to seek to make a reality of your third wish “a lasting peace in Sri Lanka”.

I am delighted to be associated with this memorable event and on behalf of the Government and people of Sri Lanka I wish Sir Arthur a very happy birthday and many more happy years in Sri Lanka.

- Asian Tribune -

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